A few hours after I posted yesterday’s Muse, UDD co-leader Nattawut announced that the Reds would not be coming to Bangkok http://www.bangkokpost.com/breakingnews/384478/reds-will-rally-if-there-any-attempt-to-derail-elections-says-nattawut, thus delaying the inevitably violent confrontation between two determined and armed “protest” groups. So no “big day” yesterday. Which is not to say that anything has changed.
One of the reasons I set up this blog in the first place was to explore the way “farang” tend to discuss Thai politics in order to come to some understanding of the role of the observer in shaping and defining the observed. Recently on Twitter I have been engaged in a childish and not very intelligent exchange with a couple of constant commentators on Thai politics who, along with many, many other foreigners, tend to dismiss the majority of actors in the Thai political arena as, yes, you guessed it, “stupid and childish”.
In my view, what we are watching unfold in recent weeks is a tweaked replay of every PAD/Yellowshirt/Royalist bid to remove Thaksin from power that has taken place since 2005. And there is nothing either stupid or childish about the way these things unfold: move, countermove, manipulation of media, appeal to foreign opinion, dismissal of foreign opinion, threats of violence, accusations of oppression and brutality, violence, violence and more violence.
Over the past few years, since a certain person made a speech indicating that such a thing should happen, judges in the various courts charged with responsibility for “political” and constitutional affairs have played a greater and more decisive role in creating outcomes in the extra-parliamentary battles that determine Thai politics far more than either elections or legislative action do.
To a great extent, this new judicial activism has replaced the military coup that has always been the preferred method of keeping power in the hands of the “elite” when parliaments look to be getting out of control. It is an innovation that will no doubt slowly spread around the world and has already done so in Egypt. And there is nothing “stupid” about this Thai innovation, regardless of how obviously corrupt and undemocratic it is, because what it does is make it impossible for the usual suspects of the liberal-left variety to point to the obviously evil and discredited military coup as a way of denying legitimacy to whatever governments are set up in the wake of a traditional coup.
But that is just the tip of an iceberg that will have to dealt with in a longer post.
I think the reason so many foreign observers and Thai “liberals” (who have almost always spent years outside the country getting an education, working, or both) are so dismissive of the machinations and manipulators in Thai politics, as well as the ordinary people who take part on either side of the divide, is that they are unwilling to see that what constitutes “politics” in Thailand and what is labeled “politics” in the predominantly liberal-democratic developed world are two different things altogether.
In Thailand, there is no liberal democratic framework within which “political” questions may be decided, as there is in western countries. The political question in Thailand is “Who rules?”, not “How shall we spend our tax money?” And as long as that is the question that politics is required to answer, the violence and structural manipulations involving courts and constitutions and all forms of extra-parliamentary chicanery will be the order of the day, particularly, ultimately, the violence.
What is happening in Thailand, again, over the past 7 years is a struggle to change the nature of the whole system of governance, not because someone like Thaksin has decided to idealistically “gift” the people of Thailand with democratic sovereignty, but because the highly imperfect system of democracy has again emerged as a possible solution to problems raised by the question “Who rules?”
To expect that struggles over a political question that has given birth to such things as the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions should somehow take on the appearance of the televised inanity that is politics in the US or Great Britain is more than a little “stupid”. And to treat the deaths of Thai citizens on either side of the divide as nothing more than the manifestation of “childishness” is not only naive and childish in itself, it is deeply offensive.